Books With Water Settings

I am cohosting Once Upon a Readathon in June and one of the ways to get points is to read books that have water settings, so I thought I would share some of my recommendations. Even if you are not participating, summer is the perfect time to read books like this, so I hope you will find this helpful.


Piranesi might not be a book that you would expect to find on a list like this one, but it is the first book that came to my mind! I think that is because few books have stayed with me in the same way this one has. The entire thing is set in this house that encompasses an ocean that has its own tides and ecosystem. It is brilliant and strange and a must-read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

If you want something similar to Piranesi, I think you should give The Ocean at the End of the Lane a try. This book leans more toward horror and there is something deeply unsettling about it. It follows a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home and is reflecting on an encounter he had with a girl when he was a child. He is sitting by a pond that she swore was an ocean and then it all unravels from there. This was so beautifully written and surprisingly dark and at 180 pages it is the perfect book for a readathon!

The Lighthouse Witches

Are you sick of me recommending The Lighthouse Witches yet? It just works for so many things and I cannot help myself. The bulk of the story is set on a remote Scottish island and it opens with a single mother being commissioned to paint a mural on the island’s lighthouse. This book is classified as Gothic horror, so you know that a lot goes wrong, if the illustration below doesn’t make that obvious.


The nature of Greek myth retellings means that a lot of them are set by water! I know that Circe is an obvious choice but it gets a lot of hype for a reason and I felt like water plays a huge role in the story.

The Change

The Change is mystery/thriller with a fantasy twist. It is set in an oceanfront community on Long Island and follows three women who discover they have different abilities once they reach menopause. They come across the body of a young woman on a remote beach and set out on a journey to find her killer. Ultimately, this is a commentary on the wealthy and what they are able to get away with.

The River

The River is a thriller I read years ago and it has stayed with me all these years later. The entire thing takes place on a river in northern Canada and we follow two best friends who are on a canoe trip and end up in a survival situation. This is one of those man vs nature type thrillers and it was so tense!

Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep is the ultimate horror book set on the water! What more could use ask for than killer mermaids? I also highly recommend reading the prequel, Rolling in the Deep. Both books are set on a ship in the middle of the Mariana Trench and they are both terrifying but brilliant.

The Exiles

The Exiles is one of my favourite historical fiction novels and one that I should talk about more often. It follows three women who have been detained in London and are boarded on a convict ship called Medea and sent to Australia. A large portion of the story takes place aboard this ship and focuses on all of the hardships that these women face during that time.

The Boat People

The Boat People is an underrated novel based on true events. This takes place in Vancouver in 2010 and follows the aftermath of the arrival of a refugee ship from Sri Lanka. It focuses on three different perspectives and how they are each affected by the arrival of this ship and how the refugees are treated afterwards.

The MV Sun Sea off the coast of Vancouver Island in 2010.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is one of the few books that I have read over and over again! It took me a couple of reads to really appreciate it but it has become a favourite. The ending is mindblowing! If you haven’t read it now is the time and then you can watch the movie.

It Happened One Summer

It Happened One Summer is my favourite romance from Tessa Bailey and the only one I would recommend if I am being honest. The main character is modelled off of Alexis from Schitt’s Creek and I love her! It takes place in a fishing community and the setting is vital to the story.

Every Summer After

Every Summer After is the ultimate summer nostalgia book, especially if you are Canadian. It is a messy romance that is told in two timelines following Percy and Sam who spent summers together on Barry’s Bay. It is friends to lovers and I could not put it down, though I recognize that it will not be for everyone!

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

Speaking of messy romances! You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty is one of the messiest romances I have ever read and I ate it up. The majority of the book takes place on an unnamed island in the Caribbean.


If you are not a fan of messy romances, I’ve got you! Sweethand is absolutely adorable. It is enemies-to-lovers and the cat on the cover is named Jello! How cute is that? This is set in Trinidad and is centred around a wedding.

The Ones Were Meant to Find

The Ones We’re Meant to Find is YA SciFi and I loved it but you have to be a fan of weird things to appreciate this one! There is just something about Joan He’s writing that works for me and I am always a fan of sisters. One of the sisters is stranded on an island, so water definitely plays an important role in the story, if you couldn’t tell by the cover.


Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my favourite YA authors and Lakelore is up there as one of their best! It follows these two teens who are the only ones able to visit the world on the lake and this lake ends up following them. It is magical realism in the way that all of McLemore’s books are!

This Vicious Grace

This Vicious Grace was one of my favourite books of 2022, so I will take any chance I have to recommend it! It is set on an island, so it totally belongs on this list. It is the best book with the “her touch can kill” trope that I have ever read!

Salt to the Sea

You probably don’t need me to tell you to read Salt to the Sea because it used to get a lot of hype but I just want to put it out there that it lives up to it! If you have been burned out on WWII historical fiction, this is one to check out because it is a unique perspective. It is following four teens fighting to get a spot aboard a refugee ship.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is so whimsical and fairytale-like and a book that I think should be read in one sitting if possible. I think this is the ultimate book if you are looking for something with a water setting since the entire thing takes place in a world underwater and there is a sea god.

The Girl From the Sea

I know that a lot of us like to read graphic novels during readathons and The Girl from the Sea is perfect for this one! It is set in Nova Scotia and is a sweet romance between a teenage girl and a selkie.

Hold Back the Tide

Hold Back the Tide is YA horror and it took me by complete surprise! A lot of it takes place by cliffs near the water and it follows a young girl who is trying to survive the monsters who have infiltrated her community. It is so good!

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter might not be one you would typically find on a list of books with water settings, but to me it totally counts! The main character, Daunis, lives in Sault, Michigan, which is set by the water and often travels into Canada by crossing a bridge that is over water. This is really just my way of reminding you that you need to read this book!

House of Salt and Sorrows

House of Salt and Sorrows is a YA Gothic horror that is a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling. It is so much darker than I was expecting and it takes place on a remote island. There is also a romance that I found myself invested in! I also appreciate that it is a standalone.

Where the Rhythm Takes You

Where the Rhythm Takes You is a sweet YA friends/enemies-to-lovers romance! The main character’s family owns a struggling resort in Trinidad and she ends up having to give a tour to her ex-best friend who is back in town after he left Trinidad and became famous.

Do you have any books you love that have water settings? Let me know!

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9 thoughts on “Books With Water Settings

  1. Andrew Mayne’s Underwater Investigation Unit series is all water centric.

    And although I didn’t read the books, The Summer I Turned Pretty and Where The Crawdads Sing are also water books.

    I adored Gaiman’s Book. His writing is hit or miss with me. This one hit. I didn’t find it horror at all. My mind is strange though. :))

  2. I’m very tempted by ‘Into the Drowning Deep’. I’m doing a nautical fiction reading challenge where one of the categories is mermaids, and scary killer mermaids is a nice twist!

  3. Great list! I really liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane, so I have high hopes that I’ll like Piranesi as well!

    If you’re looking for more water-themed graphic novels to read for this readalong, consider Aquicorn Cove by K. O’Neill or Tidesong by Wendy Xu. I really liked both of those!

  4. I’ve got several of these on my TBR (like Piranesi and Every Summer After) and I’ve read and loved a few of them too (This Vicious Grace especially – the author is local and she’s AMAZING.. just love her to bits and pieces). I think the first book that makes me think of water is probably All the Stars and Teeth, or The Dragon’s Promise, or maybe Beach Read, or even The Lucky Escape. But I’ll admit I’ve read a lot of books set in a “watery” atmosphere haha!

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